Competition will get you killed on the streetz! Well, might it?

Every time someone posts a story or video of someone with some competitive shooting experience who prevails in a street attack, the comments section comes alive with the sarcastic comment above.  Well, no one with the intelligence of a pubescent chimp would argue that competitive shooting doesn’t build useful skills.  I’ve written many times that there’s few other activities that hone your marksmanship and unconscious gun-handling abilities so well.  It also induces some stress into your shooting – something that regular range practice doesn’t – and even this small amount of stress often reveals some bad habits (like trigger affirmation*) that people swear they DO NOT have…because, you know, they’re so well trained.

Back to the comp guy (or gal) prevailing.  If the (presumably justified) situation called mostly for fast, accurate fire, then sure, the competitive experience was undoubtedly a big help in their win.  Good on them.

Now, what I don’t read about is a competitive habit that got someone hurt.  This might seem to argue that it never does, but that’s not a logical conclusion.  1) It’s unlikely that a  a press report or a video would indicate if the shooter was a competitor or not, unless they were a very well known one.  2) It would be in no ones interest – neither the unfortunate competitor nor their friends – to draw attention to the fact.  3) Shootings about which we have much detail are a small subset of shootings, most of which involve untrained people anyway.  (If anyone has some actual data here, I’d like to know about it.)

Because what little data we have is hardly dispositive we need to resort to logic, based on what we do know.

One thing we know is that in short-duration highly stressful events we don’t do a lot of thinking – we resort to our strongest instinct, or if we have training, our strongest training.  And what amplifies the effect of training?  Answer: repetitions, and performing an act under stress.

A competitive shooter is likely to have thousands of repetitions of a competitive   technique or tactic.  Further, these techniques and tactics will have been performed under what’s likely the most stressful thing they’ve ever done with respect to firearms: competition.**

So what’s likely to come  out when the real-world bad thing happens?  Answer: whatever they’ve been doing in competition.  Which is great if what the situation mostly calls for is a fast presentation, and fast and accurate fire.

But not so great if that ingrained response is something that is dangerous in the real world.  Techniques like not really using cover; tactics like standing and delivering rather than seeking cover; decisions like shooting rather than dis-engaging; failures like not effectively identifying the person you’re shooting.  Included here are also failures from not addressing the things that competition doesn’t even pretend to address (I’ve written about them here) but for which you might not feel the need because you’re spending all your time gaining so much shooting skill.

Now to be fair, some top-level competitors are also active SWAT cops.  I once had a conversation with one and he made it clear that his entire mind-set and mental process is different when he had his competition gear on vs. when he was kitted-up in tac gear.  Recall that neither competitive training nor tactical training are right-here-right-now events – both require preparation, so his argument that he could set his mental process on the appropriate channel ahead of time makes sense.  Also realize that these cops spend a lot of time in SWAT training, so they have a very strong set of tactically correct ingrained responses to complement their competitive ones.

All of this leaves my advice for most people, including myself, where it has been for decades.  Spend time becoming a reasonably good shooter.  Then spend time honing all the rest of the things you’ll need more than better shooting (see the hyperlink above).  And in the mean time, shoot some competition, even at just the club level, even just informally, because it really does make you a better shot.

*  Look it up if you don’t know what it is.  Not trying to be a dick, but everyone who owns a gun, let alone anyone who has an opinion what constitutes appropriate guns or firearms training, needs to understand this.  Unfortunately, few have even heard of it.  It’s real.  Seen it with well trained people, and even more often with those that thought they were.

**  The extremely rare, seriously experienced, real-world operators, some of whom do compete, excepted of course.  With regard to less experienced competitors: even if that competitor has actually engaged in some realistic force-on-force scenario training – which most haven’t – it certainly constitutes a de minimis percentage of their training, even of their training involving stress.


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